"If I'm a fan, I would love that. I think it is incredibly intense. It's wild. It's crazy." From Wonder Boy to NASCAR sage, Jeff Gordon has summed up well the manic mechanical madness that is NASCAR racing at Talladega Superspeedway.
The drivers hate it, the writers almost self-righteously opine that no sane race fan should enjoy it, but nothing generates more shock and awe for the American sporting public than than the frantic finishes at NASCAR’s largest track. For two days of the year, I can get a non-NASCAR’s fans attention with the tales of escape, and their mouths drop as you tell them that after the wild ride he took, Tony Stewart and company walked away from Sunday’s last lap melee.
This is not to suggest that the onlookers are filled with blood lust. No one wants to see a racer die, not even the most partisan soul. It’s a complex study in humanity watching and listening to the reaction to the finishes that restrictor plate racing produces.
Racing on the mammoth surfaces of Daytona and Talladega produces to the maximum that which draws in a racing fan. The cars run faster, the rpms peg the gauges and the intensity makes the heart pound. Let’s admit it; we have a need for speed, and the smoke and noise is an assault on the senses that produces a rush unlike anything else sports provides. The suspense builds lap after lap, and even on a day like last Sunday, where the racing was a relatively tame affair for 180-plus laps, you just know deep in your gut, it’s coming. Somewhere, some way, some how, a late caution comes out, forcing a re-start, producing the maddest of dashes to the finish.
Like starving hounds on a pork chop, the drivers as if chased by the hounds of hell, bolt like gunners on a kickoff coverage team in a football game. Inevitably, trouble ensues. Cars slowing up, and cars moving over converge with cars screaming like a bullet train into an explosion of sheet metal and rubber. It’s a sobering reminder of the bumper sticker I had on my ‘68 Mustang back in the day., “It takes 5,498 bolts and screws to put a car together, and one nut to scatter it all over the road.”
The truth is, we don’t want to see anyone die, and we don’t even really want to see anyone get hurt. It’s watching someone hurtling towards danger,staring him in the face, and sneering “Not today, you old son of a gun” (or some more colorful variation). We also marvel at technology that enables a driver to walk away from collisions that would destroy the likes of you and me in our street cars. While racing on local tracks across the country have maimed and killed some drivers, and heck, while there are actually deaths and paralysis suffered on the football field, the basketball court and even baseball games, NASCAR hasn’t lost a driver since that tragic day that Dale Earnhardt perished at the 2001 Daytona 500.
Some say these tracks should be plowed under (but I don’t think most really want that). Others say the plates should be lifted off (uh, what about the safety of the fans?). Yet others don’t really know what they want. NASCAR Nation is as divided on this question as they are the presidential election.
Until something happens that mandates a change, it is more likely the beat goes on, and who knows what the 2013 version of the Cup car will bring. Until that day comes that they either demolish these tracks, or somehow, someone comes up with the elusive happy medium, the debates goes on, just like it did before that first controversial race at Talladega, where only a bunch of unknown dare devils gave the dice a roll, while the sport’s biggest names stayed home back in 1969, when a guy named Brickhouse took the checkered flag.
Jim McCoy is a radio and television sports reporter and producer in Southern Oregon, where he makes his home with his wife and three children. Jim is also a radio play-by-play announcer for high school football, baseball and basketball. He was recently named Oregon Association of Broadcasters 2012 Sports Announcer of The Year- Non-commercial Division
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